Archive for Friday, September 15, 2006

New museum exhibit recounts story of Kansas’ black airmen

September 15, 2006

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— An exhibit that tells the story of the important role blacks from Kansas played in the aviation industry will be unveiled today, and supporters are hoping it will prompt others to come forward with their stories.

The exhibit will open at the Kansas Aviation Museum, which educates people on Wichita's and the state's contributions to the aviation industry.

Members of the Wichita chapter of the group Black Pilots of America funded and created the exhibit and believe it makes the museum more credible, chapter member Rip Gooch said.

"You would think there weren't qualified (black) people or anybody that made any significant contributions just by looking around," said Gooch, the first black to own his own aviation company in Wichita.

Monroe Balton, a Federal Aviation Administration regional counsel based in Los Angeles, and several others featured in the exhibit plan to attend its opening this evening. About 21 people are included in the exhibit so far.

Museum director Teresa Day said she is delighted with the new addition.

"We don't have anything right now except for a few items from a Tuskegee airman that specifically speaks to what African-Americans have done in aviation," she said.

The Tuskegee airmen, who trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama during the 1940s, were the first black pilots in the U.S. armed forces.

George Johnson, another Wichita chapter member, hopes the exhibit will interest the younger generation. When he was young, Johnson and his family would drive to the museum when it was the city's airport and watch planes land.

"It was so far away. I thought I would never do that," Johnson said of being a pilot.

While serving in the Army, Johnson became a helicopter pilot. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for rescuing a downed helicopter crew during the Vietnam War and flew for President Eisenhower during the Paris Summit Conference in 1960.

Johnson's and Gooch's stories are included in the exhibit. Other exhibits include stories from retired Lt. Col. Danny Ray, a Wichita native, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1977.

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